The annual selection of the most promising production-ready screenplays helped launch projects for two Oscar nominees: Shaka King and Chloé Zhao

New York University’s Purple List—an annual selection of the best production-ready screenplays from Tisch School of the Arts graduate film students and recent alumni—announces its picks for 2021.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Purple List and an important milestone with two of its distinguished alumni, Shaka King and Chloé Zhao, earning 2021 Academy Award nominations for Judas and the Black Messiah and Nomadland, respectively. Both of their debut features—Zhao's Songs My Brother Taught Me and King's Newlyweeds—were official selections in the inaugural Purple List in 2012.

The annual list was inspired by Franklin Leonard’s Black List, an annual survey of Hollywood executives' favorite unproduced screenplays. Throughout its 10 year history, the Purple List has selected 44 scripts from 46 screenwriters. Twenty-eight of the 41 screenwriters from the 10 editions of the Purple List are women; 27 are from Black, Asian, or other minority ethnic backgrounds; and seven identify as LGBTQ or have LGBTQ themes in the screenplay.

Thirteen of the projects have had theatrical releases. The list has been a tremendous success, with many films going into production and succeeding at the world’s top festivals including Sundance, Tribeca and Cannes. The alumni list also includes Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior, The Miseducation of Cameron Post), Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs, Birds of Prey), Lisa Duva (Hound), among many others.

This year's five screenplays were handpicked by a panel of 60 esteemed industry professionals including producers, screenwriters, casting directors, writers, and editors from Searchlight Pictures, Netflix, Sundance Labs, and other leading film organizations. The scripts are selected through a blind read process and continue the Purple List’s long tradition of helping bring diverse stories and voices into the mainstream.

The 2021 selections include:

  • El Cuento De La Ballena/The Story of the Whale by Adrian Cardenas
  • In the Land of Brothers by Raha Amirfazli
  • Stampede by Sontenish Myers
  • The Leftover Ladies by Farida Zahran
  • Zoe by Juan Pablo Daranas Molina
Shaka King, who earned Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay Oscar nominations for Judas and the Black Messiah, credits the Purple List with giving him valuable insight when he made his debut feature film Newlyweeds.

"Making the Purple List gave me the confidence to believe that there was an independent film community that would support my movie. When you’re first starting out, that kind of support is invaluable," said King.

Chloé Zhao, who is up for four Oscar nominations this year in the Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Director categories for her acclaimed film Nomadland, has dominated awards season with a slew of wins including the top DGA honor and top BAFTA awards (Best Film and Best Director).

“It was great to receive feedback and to have the Purple List title on my resume… the process was very easy and supportive," said Zhao.

Lisa Duva, who made the Purple List in 2020 for her debut project Hound, also credits the initiative with boosting her career.

“The Purple List was a real game changer for me. It got me the attention that led to my agents [Ruby Kaye and Bryant Barile, CAA], casting Zoey [Deutch] and working with Fox Searchlight.  It’s been such an incredible opportunity, I owe it all to the Purple List," said Duva.

The Purple List's 2021 partners include: Alta Global Media, Bitpix, Buffalo 8/Bondit Media Capital,  The Blacklist, Breaking Through The Lens, and HollyShorts.

About the 2020 Purple List Selections

El Cuento De La Ballena/The Story of the Whale by Adrian Cardenas
Adrian Cardenas’ drama, The Story of the Whale, centers on a lively and lonely Cuban fisherman who wakes up on shore next to an enormous humpback whale he netted the night before. “...the film is about the value of friendship, the complexities of aging, and the love that can be found in a community”, says Cardenas who is Cuban-American and a former Major League Baseball player.  “I was born to Cuban immigrants who uprooted their lives for a better opportunity. I frequently heard stories of displacement and separation due to deep political divide and war, but I was also told uplifting stories about a people and culture that so closely resembled my own. Cardenas was recently selected as a Marcie Bloom Fellow on the prestigious mentoring program from Sony Pictures Classics.  Maria Altamirano is attached to produce. Altamirano has a passion for debut features, collaborating with Barry Jenkins’ Pastel banner and A24 on other projects. The Story of the Whale is in the final round of selection for both the NYU Production Lab slate and Film Independent’s Screenwriting Lab.

In the Land of Brothers by Raha Amirfazli
“I’ve always been interested in borders and how they shape the lives and identities of the unprivileged, without having any effect on the privileged.  For those they affect, borders often become internalized, intimate, like a handicap…” says Iranian writer-director Raha Amirfazli. Her social drama, In the Land of Brothers, is a portmanteau told over three decades and follows four Afghan refugee families living in Iran. Amirfazli graduated from the Art University of Tehran in Film Directing and also studied at the Konrad Wolf Film School in Berlin before enrolling in the Graduate Film Program at NYU. She has made several short films that have earned her national and international screenings, including Nausea (2019) and Solar Eclipse (2021). In the Land of Brothers is part-financed with Adrien Barrouillet of Orleans-based Furyo Films attached to co-produce.  The project also won support from the CICLIC Centre, Val de Loire, France.  “My film asks what happens to family, friendship or love relationships in such a violent social environment? This is a question that arises as much for the victims as for the perpetrators of discrimination,” explains Amirfazli.

Stampede by Sontenish Myers
Stampede takes place on a southern slave plantation in the 1800s but writer-director Sontenish Myers, who loves to work in film genres, places a smart and playful eleven-year-old girl with telekinetic abilities at the heart of the story to blend period drama with science fiction. “I grew up reading sci-fi and fantasy, I read beautiful folklore with gorgeous illustrations about Black mermaids, mysterious elders, or a little Black girl on an epic adventure. When I outgrew children’s books, those images vanished from my life. I wanted to tell a story about a Black girl called upon to adventure in a dangerous world, and what time and place is more dangerous for a Black girl than during the Slave Era in the deep South?” says Myers. Stampede was a 2020 Sundance Labs project and was also selected for the Hollywood Blacklist in 2019. Myers is a recipient of the Tribeca All Access Grant, the SFFILM Rainin Grant, and also participated in screenwriting labs with Film Independent and the Hamptons International Film Festival.

The Leftover Ladies by Farida Zahran
Brooklyn-based Egyptian writer-director Farida Zahran is currently a staff writer on the A24 produced Hulu original Ramy. Her short film, Youth, a Vimeo Staff Pick, premiered at SXSW 2019 and enjoyed award-winning success at Palm Springs International ShortFest. Zahran’s debut feature, The Leftover Ladies, is an off-beat comedy set in Cairo. The film sees ‏a 60-something woman trying to leave her polygamous husband after he expresses a renewed commitment to their stale relationship.
 “The film is about self-care and building boundaries even when it feels like it’s too late. It’s a dedication to the generous women in my life who have had their kindness mistaken for weakness.” says Zahran.

Zoe by Juan Pablo Daranas Molina
Founder of NYC-based production banner FILA20, Juan Pablo Daranas Molina, known as “Juampa,” is a Cuban writer-director. FILA20’s work has screened at many film festivals and on platforms including Sundance and Amazon Video.  In his moving and personal drama, Zoe, the lives of a Cuban mother and daughter are completely upended when they become political refugees in the USA. “Like the two women in Zoe, emigrating was for me like being born again. This is a fictional story made of autobiographical ingredients, merging childhood memories with experiences from my journey as an immigrant. Zoe is a movie about two childhoods - that of a little girl, growing up and becoming her own self, and that of her mother, who must start from zero and reinvent herself in a new country.”

About the NYU Tisch School of the Arts

For over 50 years, the NYU Tisch School of the Arts has drawn on the vast artistic and cultural resources of New York City and New York University to create an extraordinary training ground for artists, scholars, and innovators. Today, students learn their craft in a spirited, risk-taking environment that combines the professional training of a conservatory with the liberal arts education of a premier global university with campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and 11 academic centers around the world. Learn more at

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